Open Source Arson Investigation

The story that follows is long and a bit convoluted, but it’s necessary to understand the situation and my reasoning behind releasing the images herein.

On August 29, I decided to go shoot some breaking-news images of the Station Fire, a massive wildfire conflagration which continues to burn as I write this in early October. I spent a significant amount of that day inside the forest shooting. The forest was closed to the public and I was admitted as media – told I was “on my own” which was just fine with me. Late in the afternoon, as I was making my way back out, I came across a rather eerie looking scene at a turnout a few miles from the forest boundary. It just looked and felt weird – the fire hoses sitting there in a box (apparently staging by the firefighters), the gnarly blackened trees, etc. So I pulled in and took a couple photos of the site.

Continue reading Open Source Arson Investigation

California Wildfire Photos

I spent much of the afternoon and evening yesterday up in Angeles National Forest photographing the fires and general devastation up there.  You can see some of the photos in my Station Fire photo album.  The Associated Press has licensed a couple of them – and I’m pretty psyched about that.  Let me know if you see them anywhere.  (And, in the “dubious honor” department, my smoky Hollywood Sign image is on the front page of the Drudge Report as I write.)

Once past the police checkpoints, it got very eerie.  The roads were debris-strewn and entire neighborhoods abandoned.  I explored the neighborhoods briefly but decided to save that for evening.

Once up into the forest, I was prepared for the flames and the smoke – but not the sound.  It was perhaps the oddest sound I’d ever heard.  Not just the roaring-freight-train sound you’d expect a mountainside of fire to sound like – but a strange, squealy-popping sound – almost like a cackling scream.  There were lines of fire everywhere.  It was really touch-and-go and “intense” is understating it.

It was a humbling experience; I hope to write more later – but for now, check the images.

The Situation Here

In Venice today, it was a record 90 degrees, windy and bone-dry.  When I woke up, I could see huge walls of smoke rising just north of the Santa Monica Mountains, then billowing west and south out of the San Fernando Valley from the Sylmar Fire, presently raging 20 miles north of here.

As the afternoon wore on, it really began to feel like the outer edge of a fire zone.  Ash and smoke passed over the eastern portion of the Santa Monica mountains and rolled down into the western section of the Los Angeles basin, casting a reddish-grey, eerie smoky darkness over this area for much of the late afternoon and into the evening.

The sun burned an angry alien red all afternoon until suddenly letting go behind the wall of smoke now hanging over Santa Monica Bay to the west.

I am amazed and thankful that, despite all the damage so far, there appear to be few injuries.  The Los Angeles Times has more, and the LA Fire Department blog is being updated often.

I’m certainly safe where i am for now.  From a personal standpoint, I’m more worried about new fires than I am the Sylmar Fire.  Compounding this worry is that in the last 24 hours, I’ve seen two separate cretins throw lit cigarettes out of their car windows.  Who the fuck are you people??

Cigarette Arsonists

Look, assholes – stop throwing your cigarettes out your fucking car window. I saw some cretin do this today in Santa Monica and wish I’d had been able to yell at him without causing an accident. This is the world’s most obnoxious habit under any conditions – but you can’t even use your ashtray now? Do the species a favor and die, please.

Venice Fire

Spoke a little too soon. I was getting ready for bed when I heard a strange noise – sounded sort of like the dryer was on or something. I looked outside and saw a large conflagration a couple blocks away. I could see towers of flame well above the houses between us. I grabbed my camera (wrong lens for the occasion, but I was in a hurry) and jumped on my bike to get a closer look. I found a patch of brush, palm trees, and a garage or small home totally involved. Power lines and a transformer fuzzed and sparked and fell to the ground. The fire was high and hot and it moved quickly. I shot these pictures. I was worried the fire would spread quickly because the palm trees – some probably fifty feet high – were fully engulfed and spraying embers all over the area. A man jumped from the flames. A couple concerned residents were out with their garden hoses, doing what they could. The fire department was on scene within a few minutes and brought it under control very quickly. Thanks, dudes.

Dryness Dustness Sootness

Today’s the first day I’ve really noticed any impact from the fires, aside from the odd atmospherics mentioned yesterday. Over the past 24 hours, considerable dust and soot has built up around the house. Tonight, I went for a bike ride around Venice and Marina Del Rey, and there’s a layer of the stuff on just about everything; cars, decks, tables, chairs, and so on.

The last couple of days have been very hot and very dry – you can feel the moisture being lifted from your skin – but the wind has been quite calm.

Some of you have asked where, exactly, I live. Here’s a fair approximation. You can see the up-to-date fire maps here. I’m guessing the dust and soot around here today are from the Malibu and Santa Clarita fires (about ten and twenty miles away respectively). This group of fires burned over 50,000 acres and were apparently extinguished this evening. The closest one that’s currently burning is about sixty miles north – a 55,000 acre fire just on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains near Santa Paula (the Piru Ranch fire). That one is reportedly 78% contained as of tonight.

I can definitely smell it today. It doesn’t smell like fire, really – it’s a dry ashy smell punctuated by extremely brief moments of smokiness. I’m told it’s not good for me.

That’s all from here.

Fires And Sunsets

Thus far, I’m relatively unaffected by the fires raging in Los Angeles and San Diego counties.  As I’ve told a few concerned people this morning, the primary effect on my own psyche has been the dramatic change of the sunset into a red, freaky, ominous spectre.  NASA’s satellite images give you an idea why.

I may wander north late this afternoon and evening to get a few photos.  For those of you nearby who want to keep your eye on things, see the LA Times’ up-to-date Google fire maps.